In a world that is constantly changing and challenging our traditional way of life, we humans have to do what we are good at since the dawn of evolution – adapting.
Quarantine sucks, losing jobs sucks, but they are things that you can’t change. What you do have control over is how you can respond to the evolving job market: be open-minded, upskill, and seize the opportunities that always accompany disruptions.
Freelancing is one way that you can make it work. Whether your goal is to gain experiences or make money, freelancing is an excellent option to keep yourself busy and moving forward. Here’s how my journey went.
I started in the middle of December 2019, when I was told to wait for another half a year for my Ph.D. application outcome. It was bad news that troubled me for … exactly 1 night. After all, I couldn’t do much about it. So the next morning, I started implementing my plan B.
I learned about Fiverr and Upwork platforms previously from a friend. He used to hire freelancers there to help him with various business stuff: logo designs, blog writing, admin work, etc.. I also heard about “virtual assistant” all the time on an entrepreneur’s podcast. She always raved about hiring a freelancer online to do various tasks so she could focus on the big picture.
I knew that if I had something to offer, I could find work on these platforms. Maybe it’d be super cheap in the beginning, but hey it’s better than nothing. Surprisingly, my experience turned out way better than expected. It didn’t take long for me to start earning decent cash, not bad for a fresh uni graduate!
Now, let me explain how I did all this, and you can too!
Intro to freelancing platforms: Upwork & Fiverr
Of course, they can’t give you all these benefits for free. I think it’s not unreasonable that both platforms take 20% of your profit. Much better than the 35% cut by Uber Eats! The two platforms work in slightly different ways, but in my opinion, the differences are perfectly complementary and you should use both platforms.
On Upwork, you will see lots of job postings, like “looking for logos”, “need a content writer” “build my website”, whatever… You can search for the keywords that match your skills, such as “Chinese translation” and “Science” in my case. If you see a job that interests you, you can send a proposal explaining why you are a good fit for it and propose your rate. This step takes some learning and trialing, which I’ll explain shortly. The person on the other end will then read incoming proposals and pick a freelancer to work with, it could be you!
On Fiverr, things work the other way around. You list all of your services as “gigs”. The clients search what they need, such as “blogs”. They will see a bunch of gigs and read through the descriptions. If yours looks appealing, you might get an order! For example, this is my most popular gig on writing nutrition and health blogs.
Attracting clients with an outstanding profile
I spent a few weeks tweaking my profile on Upwork and gig descriptions on Fiverr. Why? I didn’t want to waste all that energy attracting a potential client to my profile only to discover that it is bad. As a newbie without any reviews, I needed to make my profile ultra outstanding to outcompete others who started before than me. Basically, you need to learn how to pitch/sell your services, which is an essential skill wherever you go. Here are things that I did:
- Read others’ profiles and gigs to see what top sellers have on their profile (stalking)
- Got on freelancer podcasts, forums, and YouTube to learn from others (learning)
- Shot a profile video with me introducing myself and what I can do (pitching)
- Prepared samples of my services: blog and translations (demonstrating)
- Got a friend to buy a gig from me on Fiverr to get that initial review (promoting)
That’s the basic setup stage. It may seem a lot of work but determine how fast you grow on these platforms. You can’t expect to have orders coming in without any reviews, any compelling profile descriptions, or any proof of what you can do. That’s why I used every opportunity I could to convince potential buyers that I am a genuine person (video), I can do professional work (clear descriptions) and I have done work in the past (samples). All of these things increase your conversion rate.
Winning clients over: Have what others don’t have
What if you have no samples to show? Make some. I used my past university writing as a sample, as well as some casual blogs that I wrote myself. For my other translation service, I simply found some text and translated it. If your service is building a website, then build your own website. If your service is designing food packaging, then make something you are proud of.
Why video? I understand that most people are shy on camera, I am too. But a profile video is such a massive bonus to your empty profile in the beginning. Without it, you will need to be patient for your first order, which may or may not come in a long time. Having a professional video tells your potential buyers who you are, why you are good, and you are trustworthy! Others may have reviews, but I had an actual video showing how genuine I am! That’s how I outcompeted others by having something that they didn’t have. But make sure that your video is short and sweet, and it adds to your profile instead of taking scores off. Don’t just repeat what you already have on the profile, but add some nice lines in there. Get a professional videographer to help out if you can, I am lucky coz my partner is one but you should honestly make the investment to get a pitch video/professional photo done right. Check out Picrama and mention my name 🙂
Oh, don’t forget to tell your buyer to look at your video in your proposal! My proposal always included: “Please check out my profile video to learn more about me, and feel free to come have a chat :)” It sounds polite, but also approachable.
I also mentioned that I got a friend to purchase my gig on Fiverr first just for the reviews. I found that Fiverr was slower to take off just because there are so many gigs out there. I didn’t have to do that for Upwork. I just had to keep sending proposals until a client was willing to give me a try, which happened after ~10 proposals. It’s up to you if you want to get a review this way or wait for your first official client, I just did everything I could to accelerate the process. Reviews are really really important!
Impress your first clients: price, speed, quality, communication
Making sure that your first few clients are super happy is critical. Growth on both platforms is exponential. It starts slow but once you have a base, it picks up quickly. So I was willing to offer a lower price for my first few clients. I also delivered super fast and with top quality. Yes – I over-delivered but it was worth it. My clients gave me really nice reviews and we built long-term collaborations. Let me stress this, you gotta IMPRESS your first few clients!
The hard work was pretty much done at this stage – only 2 months since I started. From then on, I just continued to apply for jobs that looked interesting and delivered great work. I raised my price and stopped applying for underpaid projects. Many of my initial clients chose to have me as a long-term helper despite a rise in price, which is really encouraging.
Build long-term relationships
At this point, Upwork has been where the majority of work comes from. Fiverr was still quite as my gig was buried in a bunch of other gigs. But finally, I started getting a couple of orders in March and some good reviews. I reached level 1 on Fiverr after completing 25 orders in April. Since that day, my ranking of the blog writing gig jumped much higher on the board and my inbox started to be bombarded with order requests.
Late April, I slowed down and eventually stopped applying for new jobs on Upwork as I was happy with consistent orders coming in Fiverr – a few orders every day. My long-term clients from Upwork also kept me busy. I increased my pricing again but most clients still wanted to work with me, which was surprising. If your services and communication are great, clients who appreciate you will want to work with you even if you double the price!
Stick with it and get ready for exponential growth
Today is the first day of May and I crunched some numbers. I’ve made more than 10k USD from freelancing this year already! I could see my earings each month increase, and it’s mostly because of the hard work I did back in December and January. I’m super happy to get here in less than 5 months. To be honest, it still surprises me how it actually worked and worked better than expected. But it just proves that whenever you give something a good shot and keep trying, great things can happen!
I don’t know what your goals are, but freelancing has worked for mine – finding something to do while waiting for my Ph.D. to start, earning money at home, and building a side hustle that I am passionate about. The journey so far has been extremely rewarding.
Going forward, I think freelancing will continue to be one of the income sources even when I am busy with research since it is soooooo flexible. I can always choose to take on a project or not. I also truly enjoy working with some of my long-term clients!
So is COVID-19 a black swan event for the world? YES. Is it terrible and disruptive? YES. But are there ways to survive and thrive? ABSOLUTELY.
The last 4 months have been such a cool journey as I worked with lovely clients from all over the world on many projects. In fact, the demand for freelancers just increased massively due to businesses moving online.
Build your website and portfolio
One final tip, get your own website! I built mine on WordPress all by myself following some YouTube tutorials. Then I started putting my work on a portfolio page for showcasing to future clients and reminding myself of what I’ve done. It’s super cool to see that I’ve produced more than 50 pieces of content and received so many encouraging reviews. They will always motivate me to keep improving myself.
The biggest win from all this is knowing that I actually have the talent of writing. I am not even a native English speaker but all of the clients told me that my writing is fantastic. Before I started writing, I still thought that I was not as good as native speakers, but freelancing has really changed that. It gave me so much confidence and proof that I can do it! If you receive some harsh reviews, that’s okay too, learn from them, and improve your skills. For the record, I did have one client who was not happy with my work, but 99% of my clients were super encouraging.
That’s all for now. I will be back to update you all on how freelancing and my Ph.D. goes in the future. I received a scholarship to start in July so I’ll make more time for research from now on! Of course, I’m never ditching the lovely long-term clients that I’ve made friends with.
I hope that you got some inspirations and will now go find opportunities in freelancing. It’s been a game-changer for me and I’m happy to share the journey with you. The world will always evolve, so you should too!
I’d love to hear from you 🙂 Feel free to find me on Linkedin or my socials. Gooooood luck mate!